British Columbia

Shaw says B.C. employees can't have paid leave for COVID-19 shots

A Shaw Communications employee and his union are speaking out against the telecommunications giant, after it refused to give some of its B.C. workers paid leave to get their COVID-19 vaccinations, citing federal regulations.

Telecom giant says employees can leave work to get vaccinated 'as their role allows'

This Shaw employee, who CBC has agreed not to name for fear of reprisal from his employer, says customers are often shocked to learn some workers aren't covered by legislation giving workers three hours of paid leave to get their COVID-19 vaccine. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A Shaw Communications employee and his union are speaking out against the telecommunications giant, after it refused to give some of its B.C. workers paid leave to get their COVID-19 vaccinations, citing federal regulations.

"I was surprised and dismayed," said the employee, who has been with the company for more than 10 years, and whose identity CBC News has agreed to keep confidential for fear of retaliation.

"It kind of felt as if we didn't matter."

In April, B.C. amended its Employment Standards Act to provide workers with up to three hours of paid leave from work in order to get their COVID-19 vaccines.

Shaw and other telecommunications companies, however, are federally regulated — highlighting a discrepancy in how provincial and federal bodies have supported workers amid the national vaccination campaign.

The employee and his union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 213, claim Shaw told workers the provincial changes "did not apply" to employees and that they would have to use personal leave if they wanted to get vaccinated during working hours.

Robin Nedila of IBEW 213 says his union is concerned members aren't getting vaccinated because they have little spare time and are reluctant to use personal days to do so. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"We reached out to Shaw a number of times and were told the same thing — that members could use their own personal leave for vaccination," said Robin Nedila, IBEW 213 assistant business manager. "It really is shameful."

Shaw confirms that employees looking to get vaccinated during working hours have been told to use personal days, depending on what their schedule allows.

"Shaw offers all employees the ability to take time from their workday to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, as their role allows," wrote Shaw spokesperson Chethan Lakshman.

"If an employee is in a role that does not offer the flexibility to receive a COVID-19 vaccine during their regular working hours, employees are able to use personal days, which are separate from vacation time and designed to support time off required for medical and/or personal obligations."

By comparison, a staff representative for United Steelworkers, Local 1944, which represents both Shaw and Telus workers in B.C., confirms Telus is giving workers three hours' paid leave, as long as they can provide proof of vaccination.

The unnamed employee, who has received his first dose, and who visits six or more locations every shift — including homes, medical offices, and retail spaces — says the policy has served as a barrier for Shaw's staff, delaying some from getting their vaccine, and discouraging others entirely.

"We've been offered to use our own personal days or sick time to [get vaccinated] but we have those days and that time for other reasons," he said.

Labour Minister Filomena Tassi says she is concerned that Shaw is not giving workers paid leave, despite amendments to the B.C. Employment Standards Act. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Calls for change

But while the gap in policy remains in place, at least one local MP thinks there's a quick fix, should Ottawa be interested.

"The federal government could easily amend the Canada Labour Code or come up with an order in council," said federal health critic Don Davies, NDP MP for Vancouver-Kingsway.

Davies says he wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government on May 19 outlining his concerns but hasn't heard back.

Labour Minister Filomena Tassi, meanwhile, tells CBC News she is "concerned" by the reports and that her ministry has been "working closely with organizations representing federally regulated employers" — encouraging "employers to accommodate employees."

Nedila and IBEW 213 say they want to see more from Tassi's office.

"We're hoping that all federally regulated workers and, more specifically, all Shaw employees everywhere, should be given three hours to go get vaccinated," said Nedila.

With files from Belle Puri

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